Making Financial Decisions After the Loss of a Spouse

Man's Hand Resting On HeadstoneDear Mr. Market:

Our letters to you typically center around the stock market, the economy, and related investment topics. At the end of the day, however, what is wealth (the accumulation, growth, and preservation of it) all really for? That answer is different for everyone but from our experience in meeting with thousands of investors ….it means nothing without family. Losing a loved one is always painful but when it’s your spouse there are also several financial issues that arise and knowing how to navigate is critical.

The following article is written by a guest contributor, Lucille Rosetti (see credits at the end):  Continue reading

What matters beyond wealth…

Dear Mr. Market:Steve-Jobs-Quotes-on-Life

Almost every letter we write to you has to do with educating people about building or protecting wealth. At the end of the day, however, what does it all mean? Real wealth is more than a number, a status, or some level of material achievement.

To date the best articulation of this (in our opinion) comes from the alleged letter that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs wrote from his death bed. We note “alleged” in that sources closest to him recount it differently but none the less, this is an incredibly powerful message. Continue reading

Understand the Herd…don’t follow it!

Investor StampedeDear Mr. Market:

It is human nature to want to fit in or be part of the crowd. We all like to feel that we belong to a group and are not isolated. Take a moment and go back to your youth…everyone can remember a situation when someone asked us if we did something, “just because everyone else was doing it?” Another favorite that is asked of children and teens is, “would you jump off a cliff if everyone else was doing it?” Investors don’t often ask themselves these questions but as the markets have now crossed into negative territory and volatility is present they certainly should be before rushing into any decisions.

Behavioral Finance is a fascinating field and the better you understand it the better off you are as an investor. A central theme in behavioral finance is the “herd mentality”. Investopedia.com defines Herd Mentality as: “A mentality characterized by a lack of individual decision-making or thoughtfulness, causing people to think and act in the same way as the majority of those around them. In finance, a herd instinct would relate to instances in which individuals gravitate to the same or similar investments, based almost solely on the fact that many others are investing in those same stocks. The fear of regret of missing out on a good investment is often a driving force behind herd instinct.” Every individual has made a decision to fit in or be part of a group but should that include financial and investment decisions? We would answer that question with an absolute NO!  Continue reading

Are you allowing the “tax tail” to wag the “investment dog”?

Dear Mr. Market:Tax tail dog 1

Not only do you toy with the emotions of every investor; you also have a partner that often surprises them and hits investors where it hurts the most… their pocketbook. Making money in the stock market is great but so many forget that eventually they have to reconcile with Uncle Sam come tax time. Look for example at some investments that we have recently discussed: Under Armour (UA) and InvenSense (INVN).   If you had purchased these stocks on the first trading day of this year (1/2/2014) you would be up 58% with Under Armour and up 20% with InvenSense. These numbers are impressive and would certainly make any investor happy but what happens when they are sold? How will they impact your tax return and how much of the gain will you have to pay?

Nothing is certain except death and taxes.

                            Benjamin Franklin 

*** Before we move any further in this discussion it is important to note that we are not tax advisors. In this article we will be discussing general guidelines. Every investor’s situation is unique and deserves personal attention. If you have questions we would encourage you to talk with a qualified tax professional.

Let’s take a moment to go over some of the basics when it comes to investor tax issues. Continue reading

Top Tax Tips for 2014

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Dear Mr. Market:

Your whole world is about investing and the stock market. Stick to what you’re good at and leave things like repairing your car, fixing that leaky faucet, or doing your taxes to someone else-

(1) Don’t take investment advice from a CPA and vice versa.

Notice how we practice what we preach. Our first “tax tip” will be to let you know that for specific tax advice you should NOT go to your investment advisor. We’re not CPA’s and even though we understand a great deal about taxation (specifically with regard to investments) our job is to manage investments, not tax codes.

Why is it then that we see so many accountants, tax preparers, CPA’s, and even “enrolled agents” dole out investment advice around this time of year? Investors naturally gravitate to the professional that sees the majority of their financial house and by default it’s typically a CPA. We’re not bashing CPA’s but allow us to be crystal clear on this point: A CPA has no formal training nor better understanding of investments or the portfolio strategy you or your financial advisor has put together.

Look to Tip #2 on what your CPA should know about your investment situation:

(2) If the introduction hasn’t been made yet…Make it happen!

In the case of investments and taxes one old adage couldn’t be more true: ”The right hand should always know what the left hand is doing.”

If your investment advisor has not met or interacted with your CPA an introduction needs to be made. They don’t have to become best friends but your overall financial situation will be enhanced when key professionals that help you know each other.

(3) What type of tax professional do you need?

Do you simply need Continue reading

Splitting Headaches: New Laws May Adversely Affect Your Living Trust

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Dear Mr. Market:

On occasion you must certainly get writer’s cramp with all of your musings about the stock market. Allow us to not only give you a break this week but to also open your eyes to something outside of investments. All the attention you give your portfolio may be hampered if you neglect a few other issues. We’ve asked a guest and expert in estate planning to contribute some important information that you should be aware of:

Your living trust might be out-of-date.

Good financial planning isn’t just about stocks, bonds and other investments, it also involves looking at a client’s entire situation, encompassing family goals, tax planning and estate planning.  When My Portfolio Guide, LLC invited me to contribute an article, I jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with them because of their commitment to understanding all aspects of their clients’ lives when implementing strategies and solutions.

For those of you who have prepared a living trust, it is important to have your estate plan reviewed from time to time as things change.  As you are probably aware, new Federal and State laws are constantly being implemented, not to mention any changes that may be occurring in your personal life.  Because of the constant evolution of your personal situation and the legal landscape in general, I encourage my clients to occasionally review their living trusts and associated documents to make sure that everything is still going according to plan.

In particular, there has been one major change which I want to make you aware of.  Many people have created AB Trusts over the past two decades.  AB Trusts are designed to protect more of a married couple’s assets from being taxed by the government upon their passing.  However, one drawback of an AB Trust is that it is relatively expensive to implement after one spouse passes away.  The AB Trust requires that the trust be divided or “split” into two separate trusts after the first spouse passes away.  This split requires the help of an attorney or a CPA to divide and administer the trust and can also give legal rights to children or other beneficiaries over a portion of the trust during the lifetime of the surviving spouse, increasing the potential for conflict.  Furthermore, the split requires the filing of additional tax returns after the passing of the first spouse.  The costs associated with an AB split are often several thousands of dollars.

The AB Trust was very popular because it Continue reading

What’s my number?? – Making sense of Financial Planning

Financial Plan #2Dear Mr. Market:

Let’s be honest… the vast majority of hard working Americans have one question in common – Will I be able to retire?  The circumstances pertaining to each individual are as different and unique as the individual themselves. The one connecting point we all have however, is to know if we are going to be able to reach our goals, whatever they might be.

Have you seen some of the commercials where an actor asks you if you know how much you need to retire? Other commercials have people carrying around a huge cut-out of a random numbers …like $1,456,298 around with them.  What’s your magic retirement number? Where should an individual go to get their many questions answered?  With few guarantees how is anyone to know if they are on track to reach their goals?

There is certainly not a lack of financial planning services and products available to consumers today.  It can actually be a bit overwhelming and frustrating for the average person.  Any Financial Plan should be viewed as a guide or a benchmark, serving as a road map to the ultimate destination.  As with other financial service offerings there are many different elements that need to be taken into consideration. Let’s take a moment to look at some of the more important ones and put it in plain English using some common phrases we are all familiar with….. Continue reading